In most novels, the rhetorical device of symbolism is used to enhance the depth and meaning of a story. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 American novel, The Great Gatsby, he utilizes the green light, the valley of ashes, and the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg to portray the central theme of the hopelessness of the American dream. In the 1910s and 1920s, red-green traffic lights had first begun to be installed in the United States. In relation to those traffic lights, the green light in Fitzgerald’s novel means “go”. In the context of the plot, the green light symbolizes Gatsby to chase after his dreams.
Staring at the green light on Daisy’s dock, Gatsby longs to be reunited with Daisy, his lost love. “… he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way. “Involuntarily I glanced seaward – and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away… ” (21). This quote symbolizes the green light that Gatsby reaches toward and is significant because it represents his dream of repeating the past and being together with Daisy. It signifies Gatsby’s hope and future of being with Daisy. Because the symbol is described as ‘minute and far away’, Gatsby’s dreams are impossible to reach.
Gatsby was determined to reach out for his dream as Nick narrates in chapter nine, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And then one fine morning—so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (180). This quote shows that no matter how hard Gatsby worked to be with Daisy, he never fully belonged with her.
His dreams and expectations of the American dream of being rich and working ard to get what he wanted was all a myth to him in the end. This shows how the American dream is unattainable. The American dream shows that if one works hard, they will gain success in life. It says that people are able to live a fuller, richer life. The valley of ashes, a desolate place between West Egg and New York, represents the absolute poverty and hopelessness in society, which shows the unattainable message of the American dream. Those who live in this area want to leave but seemingly fail with only feeble attempts.
George Wilson is one example of this. When Nick sees George, he narrates, “When he saw us, a damp gleam of hope sprang into his light blue eyes” (25). George dreams of going from rags to riches. He works very hard in his car garage in order to provide a better life for him and Myrtle, but is unable to achieve that goal. Myrtle wishes to leave Wilson and is desperate to get herself out of the valley of ashes and poverty with Tom. Myrtle justifies her affair with Tom as an alternate method to achieving wealth and escaping the lowerclass.
This illustrates how the American Dream is impossible to achieve because no matter how hard one works, one can never truly leave their background of poverty behind. In the 1920s, people in society mainly focused on capitalism and money. Religion was the last concern on their mind. In their vision, they saw money as their God. In chapter 2, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleberg, painted on an old advertising billboard over the valley of ashes, are introduced as a symbol of God. “The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic – their retinas are one yard high.
They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles”(pg. 23). They symbolized the growing commercialism of America where life was all about making money, instead of what a person may be morally. Successful men such as Tom Buchanan, exemplify how much money he had, not on what kind of person he morally was. This rise of commercialism is also symbolized in the billboard because it is an ad promoting a business. After George learns of Myrtle’s affair, he takes her to the window to look at the billboard. He tells her, “”God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing.
You may fool me, but you can’t fool God! God sees everything”(159). He calls the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleberg as the eyes of God. The eyes symbolized the loss of spiritual values in America. The billboard is a symbol that foreshadows the incident when Daisy runs over Myrtle. Through worshipping capitalism, this was how the people turned out. Daisy kills Myrtle right in front of God. and then allows Gatsby to take the blame, an action that later leads to his death. The large amount of chaos that develops shows a decline in people’s value of morality.